The never-ending season
Drafts have been held recently, the free agent signing frenzy begins in a couple of days, and schedules are being released.
Enough hockey-related material for you?
Between the Western Hockey League and National Hockey League, there’s been no shortage of news lately. All this, and fans of the professional game have had to suffer through two weeks without games – yes, it really has been 14 days since the Boston Bruins hoisted the Stanley Cup at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Maybe it’s felt longer to diehard Canucks fans.
It’s also getting into that time of year where offseasons for the WHL’s Cougars and B.C. Hockey League’s Spruce Kings wind down and they once again begin filling sports headlines with more regularity. Here’s some hockey-related topics I’ve been following.
Something I’m curious to see is how the teams’ schedules appear this coming season, as relocation is changing the makeup of both leagues.
For the WHL, the introduction of the Victoria Royals (formerly the Chilliwack Bruins) means ferry trips will get factored in Western Conference travel schedules.
Ferry and highway time combined, Victoria is between three and four hours from Chilliwack. For the WHL, the relocation of the Bruins took away what had to be one of the best travel schedules in the league. Victoria may get more support and play out of a larger arena, but nobody will argue that Chilliwack is more centrally located for a league stretching as far east as Brandon, Man., and south to Portland, Ore. The Cougars will certainly feel the impact on their travel schedule as the Royals play in the same B.C. Division.
By the way, Cougars fans won’t have to wait much longer to start planning which home games to attend. The WHL is expected to release its 2011-12 regular season schedule today.
The Cougars won’t feel the same impact from the Chilliwack-to-Victoria relocation as the Spruce Kings from the Quesnel-to-Chilliwack relocation. Filling the vacant spot in Chilliwack is the Millionaires, a move which leaves the Spruce Kings as the only BCHL squad north of Salmon Arm.
As if that isn’t bad enough, Prince George hockey fans now have to travel at least as far as Merritt – 560 kilometres away – to catch a Spruce Kings road game. As if that isn’t hard enough, a switch from seven playoff teams to four means the Spruce Kings will have to perform significantly better than last season just to qualify for the postseason.
Doubleheaders? Expect more of them, which may also result in more dates in which the Cougars and Spruce Kings play on the same nights.
As for the NHL, having Winnipeg in the fold has required major adjustments. Want to know the date and opponent of the reborn franchise’s first game? Oct. 9 at home against the Montreal Canadiens
The Canadian Hockey League Import Draft is today, with the Cougars selecting 30th overall. It’s a much different position than a year ago, when the Cats used the first overall selection to secure the rights to Slovak defenceman Martin Marincin. But it’s not a selection to be taking lightly either, considering Marincin has reached a professional contract with the Edmonton Oilers and stands a decent chance of playing pro or semi pro this season.
For Prince George minor hockey products, the NHL Entry Draft on Friday and Saturday wasn’t as eventful as preferred. Five players with strong ties to hockey in Prince George made Central Scouting Services’ final list of the top North American skaters eligible to get drafted. Of those five, three are Prince George minor hockey products, and four are Cariboo Cougars players. One of them, defenceman Jesse Forsberg, skates for the Cougars.
A clear sign that hockey season is around the corner is the return of summer camps and schools. They begin as early as next month, with the World Pro Goaltending Camp scheduled for July 11 to 15 at the Elksentre. Things really pick up in August, as the Coliseum plays host to the Okanagan Hockey School (Aug. 1 to 5), Cariboo Cougars’ tryout camp (Aug. 5 to 7) and Spruce Kings Hockey School (Monday to Friday for three weeks from Aug. 8 to 26).
Also in August, the Turcotte Stickhandling School makes its way to the Elksentre.
When you factor in all the off-ice activities, it can be argued that hockey season never really ends.